Bush’s foreign policy: The debacle deepens
By Max J. Castro
Just when you think the
results of Bush’s foreign policy could not get worse something happens to
surprise even the hardened critic. A series of recent events have been
spectacularly disastrous even by the standards of this administration.
The al-Maliki fiasco
In the wake of a clear
expression of voter disapproval of the war, as the carnage in Iraq reached
devastating dimensions, and with both the military and political situation in
that country in danger of collapse, the Bush administration is desperately
seeking to transfer more of the responsibility -- including the casualties and
the blame -- to its Iraqi allies.
In pursuit of that purpose,
Mr. Bush held a much-ballyhooed meeting last week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki. But, like much else involving Iraq, the high level meeting turned
into an embarrassing misadventure.
First, a secret memo written
by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, was leaked to the New
York Times just before the scheduled meeting. The memorandum, the product of
a recent trip to Iraq by Hadley and members of the National Security Council
staff, raised fundamental questions not only about al-Maliki’s will and
competence but also about top U.S. officials’ knowledge (or lack thereof)
concerning a key American ally.
As the passage from the Hadley
memorandum below shows, this late in the game the President’s top national
security adviser is still trying to figure out what makes the leader of the
Iraqi government, installed by U.S. military might and supported by vast amounts
of American human and financial resources, tick:
“We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if
Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian
agendas being promoted by others. Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same
vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the
reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in
determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq. Maliki reiterated a
vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting
with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having
difficulty figuring out how to do so.”
In other words, after more
than three years of occupying Iraq and of playing sorcerer’s apprentice with its
political, social and cultural structure -- in spite of untold expenditures on
intelligence -- top administration officials are still clueless.
The leaked memo, aside from
exposing the administration’s lack of confidence in its top Iraqi ally, led to
another embarrassment when the Iraqi Prime Minister abruptly canceled a
scheduled meeting with President Bush. Administration officials embarrassed
themselves further by insisting -- against reason and common sense -- that the
cancellation was insignificant and did not constitute a snub.
Prime Minister al-Maliki was
no doubt angered by the leaking of the memo, but he may have had an additional
reason for standing up Bush. The President is even less popular among sectors of
al-Maliki’s own political coalition than he is in the United States. Moktada al-Sadr,
an anti-American Shiite cleric and a key political partner of the Prime
Minister, opposed the meeting. By canceling the first meeting with Bush, then
holding a subsequent one, al-Maliki may have been tying to please two masters.
The incident underscores the
limits to U.S. power even in an occupied Iraq. It also raises questions about
the purpose of the leak, which almost certainly came from a top U.S. official.
That may be another indication of the kind of dissension that the disaster in
Iraq has sown in the top civilian and military echelons of the U.S. government.
A headline in the December 3
edition of the Los Angeles Times says it all: “Mideast allies near a
state of panic. U.S. leaders' visits to the region reap only warnings and
After shredding virtually all
remaining U.S. credibility in the region by invading Iraq and supporting Israeli
aggression against Lebanon, the Bush administration thought it could start to
patch things up through a series of quick visits by the President, the Vice
President, and the Secretary of State. They got a big surprise. The Los
Angeles Times reports that:
“In all, visits designed to
show the American team in charge ended instead in diplomatic embarrassment and
disappointment, with U.S. leaders rebuked and lectured by Arab counterparts.”
Civil War, Rumsfeld’s candor
The administration has tried
hard for months to deny the obvious, that a civil war is taking place in Iraq.
Most of the media and many world leaders had been going along. But a sea change
has taken place in the last two weeks as Colin Powell, NBC News, and Koffi Annan
all declared that the conflict is now a civil war.
The change of language is
likely to erode the already low levels of public support for the administration
and the war. That trend is likely to be reinforced by the disclosure that just
before he resigned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of the architects
and chief cheerleaders for the war, had written a memo acknowledging that things
were not going well and suggesting changes.
Other regions, other troubles
In Latin America, the crushing
electoral victory of Bush’s nemesis Hugo Chávez was bad news for the
administration. Perhaps worse and less expected is the colossal scandal linking
allies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the administration’s main friend in
the region, with drug traffickers and the paramilitaries, a scandal that may end
up engulfing Uribe himself. Contrary to U.S. hopes, the advance of the left in
Latin America continues as evident in recent elections in Nicaragua, Ecuador,
and Venezuela. In contrast, Fidel Castro’s illness so far has failed to produce
any hint of regime change in Cuba.
A humbling, bumbling foreign
George W. Bush promised a
humble foreign policy. Instead Bush, arguably the worst president in U.S.
history, has conducted foreign affairs in a way that has brought this country
shame, ridicule, and opprobrium.